Sustainability Frameworks

naturalcapitalismOne of the questions that I like to ask when I’m working with a company on their sustainability program is “How do you define sustainability for your organization?” This is not meant to confuse or anger the VPs, Directors and Mangers in the room, even though it quite often does.

What I am wanting is for them to be able to tell me what this type of activity means to their organization. How they envision sustainability within their operations, supply chain and their people. I’m hoping to start a conversation, instead I usually hear, “That’s why you’re here!”

Like many other concepts and plans, sustainability appears to mean many things to many people. Such a simple concept seems to have mystified so many people. Perhaps it is due to the environmental tie in that people believe is sustainability. Thus pulling into their mind images of tree hugging, fun loving young people from the 60’s and 70’s. That is understandable considering that today’s leaders grew up watching one of the three available television channels and saw those images on the nightly news. Not a lot of variation in coverage back then.

However, this is no longer the case. Today we can watch channels that specialize in history, science, medicine, world politics, and the environment.

Sustainable Development also offers different views, methods or frameworks that business and individuals can use when crafting their sustainability endeavors. To help you better, let’s discuss a few of these.

Natural Capitalism

From Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins. Natural capitalism includes the following four elements:

  • Radically increase productivity in the use of natural resources.
  • Shift to biologically inspired production models and materials.
  • Move to ‘service-and-flow’ business model.
  • Reinvest in natural capital.

The Natural Step

Founded by Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert, an oncologist from Sweden. The purpose is to help people reduce the potential causes of environmental problems. Four system conditions are identified that all of us should follow in order for us to be sustainable while on this planet of finite resources.

  1. Nature’s functions and diversity must not be systematically subjected to increasing concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust.
  2. Nature’s functions and diversity must not be systematically subjected to increasing concentrations of substances produced by society.
  3. Nature’s functions and diversity must not be systematically manipulated, degraded, impoverished, or over[harvested.
  4. Resources must be used fairly and efficiently to meet the basic needs of people worldwide.

More information can be found at


Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart developed a strategy for sustainable development through a model they call “eco-effectiveness”. This model calls for a rethinking of the way products and processes are designed. Their model requires that the future life of the product and its materials is foremost in mind during the design process, and not simply viewed as an afterthought in the current ‘cradle-to-grave’ approach.

They describe two distinct global metabolisms:

The Biosphere – which includes the cycles of nature.

The Technosphere – which compromises the cycles of industry and includes the extraction of raw materials from nature.

Their concept means that goods and services are designed so that materials produced can safely recirculate back into one or both of these metabolisms.

Zero Waste

Advocates here view waste and environmental impacts as indicators of inefficiencies within organizations. These inefficiencies can create unneeded cost and cause social and environmental problems. Often the goal is to increase efficiency to the point where the concept of waste is eliminated.

These are only four of the many available frameworks available to you or your organization. We’ll discuss others later, but for now take a quick tour around the web and see if one of these might help you get a better grip on this concept of sustainability.

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